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Connect the Dots: Karl Rove's Politics Uber Alles Strategy and the Utah Mine Disaster

Rove may be on his way out the door, but the destructive legacy of his politicization of the federal government will be with us for many years to come.
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What makes Karl Rove's politics uber alles strategy chilling is connecting the dots between it and the Utah mining disaster.

Rove's unprecedented use of federal assets for political gain, laid out in yesterday's Washington Post, meant that every tool at his disposal was employed to help foster his goal of a permanent Republican majority. "It was all politics, all the time," Rep. Henry Waxman told WaPo.

"It was total commitment," marveled Rep. Thomas Davis III, who worked closely with Rove in 2002 on the GOP's House reelection campaign. "We knew history was against us, and [Rove] helped coordinate all of the accoutrements of the executive branch to help with the campaign."

These accouterments included, in the words of the Post, "enlisting political appointees at every level of government in a permanent campaign that was an integral part of [Rove's] strategy to establish electoral dominance." But Rove's plan involved much more than having Cabinet officials make election year visits bearing federal goodies to the districts of embattled Republicans; it also meant using the government's regulatory mechanisms to reward major GOP contributors. Major contributors such as Big Coal.

Coal mining interests have donated more than $12 million to federal candidates since the Bush-era began with the 2000 election cycle, with 88% of that money -- $10.6 million -- going to Republicans.

And what did that largess buy the coal mining industry? Mine safety regulators far more interested in looking out for the financial well-being of mine owners than for the physical well-being of miners.

Exhibit A is Bush's "mine safety" czar, Richard Stickler, whose agency both approved the controversial mining technique used at the Crandall Canyon Mine before the collapse, and oversaw the rescue operation.

Stickler is a former coal company manager with such a lousy safety record at the companies he'd run that his nomination as head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration was twice rejected by Senators from both parties, forcing Bush to sneak him in the back door with a recess appointment.

In other words, the guy the White House tapped to protect miners is precisely the kind of executive the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration is supposed to protect miners from. And now Stickler is the one who will lead the "investigation" into what happened in Utah -- unless there is enough public outcry to force a truly independent investigation.

Of course, industry-friendly regulators like Stickler have been the rule under Bush, not the exception. Indeed, Bush's first mine safety czar was Dave Lauriski, a former mining executive who had earned a reputation for aggressively defending the interests of mine owners. For chapter and verse on Lauriski, read this terrific article by Ken Ward, Jr. in the Washington Monthly, but here is the nub of the matter: Lauriski took office promising mine owners that he would "collaborate more with stakeholders on regulatory initiatives" and become "less confrontational" with mine operators.

Exactly what did he mean by "less confrontational"? According to Ward, during his tenure, Lauriski "filled [MSHA's] top jobs with former industry colleagues, dropped more than a dozen safety proposals initiated during the Clinton administration, and cut almost 200 of the agency's 1,200 coal mine inspectors. Mine-safety experts have linked many of these actions to the causes of deadly mine safety accidents since 2001." Among the mine-safety regulations Lauriski dropped was one that would have deepened investigations of mining accidents.

No doubt Murray and the owners of the coal mines where over 170 miners have died since Lauriski gutted those safety regulations are happy that he did.

Lauriski resigned after 60 Minutes revealed that the MSHA had improperly awarded no-bid contracts to coal industry companies to which he was tied.

It's worth noting that the person Bill Clinton appointed to head MSHA, J. Davitt McAteer, was not a coal-industry insider -- indeed, he had been a key force behind the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, had worked with Ralph Nader on workplace safety reforms, and was running a public-interest law firm focused on occupational safety when Clinton tapped him. He therefore came to the job with a very different perspective than the one required by Rove's objective of using government agencies as accoutrements for the GOP's permanent campaign.

Putting foxes in charge of the henhouse has been standard operating procedure for Rove's hyper-politicized White House. The long list of industry hacks given key slots at federal agencies will forever stand as the ultimate tribute to Rove's effectiveness in turning the federal government into an arm of the Republican Party -- and a payback machine for those that funded it. For a primer on the hackocracy, check out the New Republic,, and the Denver Post.

In far too many cases, these cynical appointments that put the Party's interest above the public interest, have left our country less safe, our environment more polluted, our fellow citizens less healthy -- and, in the case of the Crandall Canyon Mine, three of them dead, and six others in all likelihood entombed in the mine forever.

Karl Rove may be on his way out the door, but the destructive legacy of his politicization of the federal government will be with us for many years to come.

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